It’s time to look back at 2020, a challenging year for our industry and for Directors UK — but one which also saw directors operating at their very best, finding creative solutions and keeping the nation entertained.
As well as an introduction from Directors UK Chair Steve Smith, messages from our members and a final word from CEO Andy Harrower, this Review of the Year takes you through a year’s worth of videos, podcasts and articles and gives you a summary of all things Directors UK in 2020.
An introduction from Steve Smith
Since we first started writing them in 2014, our Review of the Year has always been a place to celebrate the craft of directing, pick out highlights from the Directors UK calendar and take an irreverent look at 12 months of industry news. But how do you review a year that has essentially been split into two parts: before and after the pandemic?
Coronavirus has been brutal to our industry and to all of us as individuals. Many of us have lost work and faced financial hardship and stresses that have damaged both our physical and mental wellbeing. As with the rest of the country, we have also had to cope with the loss of friends and loved ones, and the trials of social isolation. Those fortunate directors who, like myself, were able to continue working, were suddenly faced with a whole new world of logistical challenges and restrictions.
Everyone has their own 2020 story, and that’s why in our Review of the Year for 2020, you’ll hear about the ups and downs of your fellow directors working in various genres across the industry. Directors are creative problem solvers, and so even when faced with the hardest conditions, that passion for the craft shines through. We have collectively stepped up, entertained and informed the country when it needed it most.
I’m pleased to say that Directors UK has also risen to the challenge posed by COVID. We adapted quickly to make sure that you continue to receive your (never more vital) distribution payments. We’ve also continued to campaign for the interests of directors, and we’ve maintained an exciting virtual events and career development programme. You’ll find more on all of that below.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’ll be glad to see the back of 2020. But this will be the last Review of the Year that I introduce as Chair, as my term comes to an end in 2021. Looking back over the year, despite everything, I feel a real sense of pride at what Directors UK and our members have achieved. I hope that you do too.
“2020 began promisingly, with two back-to-back bookings to direct TV drama along with a few other smaller projects coming together nicely. However, by early April, all had evaporated into thin air.
Like many others, life took on an entirely new dimension as we watched, confused and bewildered, as the world stumbled into a paralysing lockdown. Those doomsday movies and ‘end of the world’ epics now seemed alarmingly credible and relevant, though none featured the all-consuming importance of having enough toilet roll.
Alongside the daily routine of keeping kids and the dog amused, were the endless Zoom/FaceTime/Skype/Whereby/Teams/WhatsApp videocalls, all trying to calmly and rationally foresee a time when work could pick up where we’d left off and we could stem the haemorrhaging of savings from our bank accounts.
2021 is now around the corner and so is a vaccine. Got two more back-to-back TV dramas to direct and some exciting new projects underway. Let’s hope it stays that way.” — John Maidens
“When shutdown came, I was mid-block on Coronation Street. Within two months we were back up and running, albeit at a distance. But in that gap the world had completely changed; we were all waking up in a bleak, dystopian reality. The year began with me shooting an entire film in one shot – a long held ambition – The Way Out, for BBC4/Battersea Arts Centre, and has ended with that same film winning an RTS Craft and Design award. But as this year ends, it’s those less fortunate that we think about, those who have lost loved ones – and it’s the extraordinary work the NHS has done that will be remembered in 2020.” — Suri Krishnamma
In March, the country went into lockdown for the first time to combat rising cases of coronavirus across the UK. Everywhere, people had to adapt to a new reality of social distancing and home working. And while all industries were disrupted, the change was particularly felt within the screen sectors, reliant as they are on teamwork, travel, and co-operation at close quarters. Suddenly directors were facing months of cancelled jobs and subsequent financial hardship, all while having to deal with the same day-to-day challenges the virus was imposing on the rest of the world.
On top of this, the need for quality TV and film had never been greater. Faced with the prospect of weeks of isolation, people turned to the work of directors to keep them informed and entertained. It was clear that even under extremely straitened conditions, the show had to go on.
Directors quickly found creative solutions to keep their programmes on air. Through remote directing and the inventive use of Zoom, it was still possible to create great factual, drama and entertainment programmes. In May, Directors UK Chair Steve Smith and Paul Whittington spoke to each other about remotely directing The Graham Norton Show and Isolation Stories respectively, while director Christian Collerton discussed the making of Grayson’s Art Club with Angie Mason and Nick Green, directors of Old, Alone and Stuck at Home.
The industry quickly looked at ways to get production back on its feet, developing a package of return-to-work guidelines with input from Directors UK and other organisations. These guidelines meant that it eventually became possible to return to set — albeit under extremely prohibitive working conditions. Regular testing and mask-wearing was just the beginning; more involved strategies included filming in cohorts, one-way systems and tiered access to sets. But it was all necessary, especially when it came to keeping some of the country’s best-loved dramas on air. Suri Krishnamma wrote a revealing diary for us, going behind the scenes of “Corona Street” as it returned to production after a pandemic-induced hiatus. As regulations evolved, directors were also ploughing their own creative furrows: members Luke Bradford and Carl Hunter both wrote for us about making short films under lockdown conditions, while Robin Sheppard journaled her lockdown YouTube comedy smash, Dun Breedin.
However, alongside the creativity and resourcefulness, for many this year has simply been about getting by. From the very beginning, Directors UK has been fighting for members in the face of a Government that frankly hasn’t done enough. Working alongside other industry organisations, we have seen some positive results: early interventions saw the introduction of the first SEISS, as well as the £1.57bn cultural recovery fund and the £500 million Film and TV Production Restart Scheme. By joining us in writing to MPs, Directors UK members piled on the pressure and spurred the creation of a massive APPG for those excluded from the Government’s provisions. We have also been on hand to forcefully hit back against misinformation about self-employed workers’ earnings, both online, in letters to the Government and in the submissions we’ve made to numerous consultations throughout the year. But despite all this activity, the Government still chooses to ignore those people who have been excluded from the very beginning of the pandemic. As the situation carries on into the new year, Directors UK will continue to do everything we can to advocate on behalf of directors and the wider creative industries. If you need any help and advice, please do contact us or visit our coronavirus advice page for resources on financial aid and wellbeing.
This has been a trying year, but also one that exemplifies the perseverance, creativity, and resourcefulness of directors. With these strengths in hand, the industry will continue to bring information, comfort and entertainment to millions.
“Lockdown began, and as jobs dropped off the calendar, the realisation hit that my career as a shiny-floor multi-camera director wasn’t that important to the day-to-day survival of the world. Much soul searching later, trying to work out how I could do something to contribute more to society, I went back to work on Strictly… Seeing and hearing how a little bit of sparkle can bring joy to people’s lives, particularly at this time, makes me feel proud and privileged to be a small part of it all.” — Nikki Parsons
“I started 2020 full of hope. My time in my home country of Somaliland had re-energised me, and I was ready to return to the thing I loved most: directing. Then COVID hit.
I spent lockdown reading, planning and honing my skills. The BLM movement forced me to reflect on my own experiences and on the injustices faced by creative people of colour. After talking openly to others about our struggles, this inspired me to set up a production company that could provide opportunities for emerging Black talent. I was able to self-fund and shoot Breathe, a film about love, healing and Black mental health.
And now, 2020 is going to end with me having a TV project picked up, writing-directing my fourth feature film and directing a Sky One drama series.
It's been a challenging, rollercoaster of a year, man. But 2020 taught me to pursue my passions and collaborate with people I respect and trust. To embrace the moment, hold onto hope and get yours!” — Mo Ali
Campaigns and Public Affairs
Campaigning for better working conditions is a core part of what Directors UK does, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made that work even more important.
We know that factual directors are often expected to take on extra responsibilities beyond those found within drama or scripted production. We also know that unsafe working conditions have become far too commonplace within factual production. This year, COVID-19 has only multiplied those risks and responsibilities. Which was why, in October, we were proud to release Working Under COVID: Advice for Factual Directors.
Developed in collaboration with working factual directors, Directors UK Board Member Nic Guttridge, legal counsel Prash Naik and safety consultants First Option, Working Under COVID provides a new framework for safe working on factual productions under COVID-19 conditions. You can find out more about it here.
The safety of both cast and crew was also at the forefront of our minds when we published Intimacy in the Time of COVID-19: Directing Nudity and Simulated Sex. A follow-up to our popular Directing Nudity and Simulated Sex guidelines, Intimacy in the Time of COVID-19 came out in August with a view towards solving one of the trickiest conundrums for productions during the pandemic era: how do you convincingly – and safely – depict intimate scenes on screen?
The guidelines were produced in consultation with directors Susanna White and Bill Anderson, as well as intimacy coordinator Vanessa Coffey, and were instantly shared far and wide upon their release. Intimacy in the Time of COVID-19 garnered coverage in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and was even featured on Radio 4, proving that directors are up to solving even the trickiest of on-set obstacles. You can download your own copy of Intimacy in the Time of COVID-19 here.
Throughout the year we were involved in a wide-ranging consultation process that led to BAFTA implementing over 120 changes to their voting, membership and campaigning processes, aimed towards improving inclusion and equality within their awards and membership structures. We were also delighted to join the new Coalition for Change in August, alongside broadcasters and other organisations. The coalition aims to explore a wide range of issues faced by freelancers, and to offer solutions that can then be adopted by broadcasters.
Despite the pandemic, Directors UK continued to protect the concerns and champion the rights of directors. In early March, back when we could share a drink and an enclosed space, we sponsored the first ever Best Direction awards at the Film the House award ceremony, a cross-parliamentary competition that highlights the importance of copyright and IP. We’ve also represented directors in a record-breaking number of consultations this past year, ensuring that institutions including the BBC, DCMS, the IPO, the Treasury and Ofcom all heard and responded to the issues that matter to your working lives.
“As with so many, this year has taken a big toll on my income, but lockdown provided an unprecedented opportunity to spend time with my young son, for which I’m extremely grateful. It’s reminded me that creativity and wellbeing are optimised when the environment around us is nurturing, respectful and safe – something that the culture of our industry has not always promoted. Which is why it was a great pleasure to work alongside Directors UK factual members, the Pay and Working Conditions Committee, and our brilliant strategy and communications teams to produce an important resource to help directors navigate the new production landscape. Before COVID, long hours, tight schedules and skeleton teams within some productions were all routinely putting freelancers at risk. Within COVID these pressures only add to the potential dangers. My hope is that the trials of 2020 have allowed those with the power to affect change to reflect on what really matters, and that we emerge from this with an industry that prioritises creativity alongside personal wellbeing – and acts as if it means it.” — Nic Guttridge
“2020 was an unbelievably tough year for so many directors but an unexpected effect was having time to reflect on how our industry operates and to focus on bringing about reform. Together with Ali Bailey [Directors UK Director of Strategy and Development], I worked to lobby BAFTA to make changes to its voting procedures, and I was thrilled to see that campaigning (along with many other voices in the industry) take effect in the huge root and branch reforms laid out in September. Along with Bill Anderson and Natasha Moore [Directors UK Head of Campaigns] I also worked to draw up new guidelines on shooting intimate scenes under COVID, an extension to our earlier intimacy guidelines.” — Susanna White
While they are always a major fixture of our work, member career progression and professional development became even more important in 2020. Facing the delay and cancellation of work on a grand scale, many directors chose to work on developing their projects and honing their skills across the genres, so that they could be fighting fit when the industry recovered. Making the most of online webinars and virtual formats, we were keen to make sure that we continued to deliver a wide range of career development opportunities.
And what opportunities they were! From Creative and Strategic Consultancy with Cynthia De Souza to Online Coaching with Alec McPhedran, BAFTA albert training to a Pitching Workshop with David Keating, there were plenty of sessions to develop and inspire. Over the summer, Directors UK partnered with ScreenSkills to develop online workshops on directing multi-camera and entertainment, and children’s drama. It also marked the beginning of a series of online director masterclasses, as John Strickland discussed the process of bringing script to screen with Anya Camilleri. These masterclasses continued throughout the year, including a factual masterclass on In Cold Blood with Marcus Plowright and Anna Thomson, and a two-part look at Directing Intimacy, exploring our recently published guidelines. Even the actor-director relationship was brought under the microscope, as our popular Directing Actors event with Suri Krishnamma moved online — no small feat, as our Career Development and Skills Officer Sean Thomas sets out in this article.
On top of that, there were placements and mentoring opportunities galore. The Inspire mentoring scheme continued to pay dividends throughout the year: Rubika Shah wrote about her mentoring partnership and the release of her hit documentary, White Riot, while Serena Gardner and Deva Palmier wrote about managing the transition to online mentoring. There were some fantastic work placements available, including on Slow Horses with James Hawes, and Midsomer Murders with Toby Frow (which is still open to women directors of colour – find out more and apply). We even squeezed in a couple of new schemes at the start of the year, with the introduction of the new Back on Track mentoring programme, while the High-End TV Drama Directors Career Development Programme saw our members working on the sets of Silent Witness and All Creatures Great and Small.
There was so much to get involved with, in fact, that we even put together a guide to applying to career development opportunities. And it was all hosted on the brand new, dedicated Career Development section of our site, where you can find opportunities, resources and more.
“It’s been a funny old year personally, but professionally I have been very lucky. My 2020 started off with finishing my Directors UK placement on the hit of the year, All Creatures Great and Small. What a treat to be involved with such an amazing show with a great cast and crew. I then moved on to direct my first two episodes of Casualty – the first ended three days before lockdown started and I finished my second in October. So I should officially be in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest block of Casualty ever. I hope 2021 brings everyone love and happiness.” — Ruth Carney
“Releasing White Riot during a pandemic has been testing stuff. The year started with a bang, with our international premiere at Berlin, but the buzz was short-lived. Over the summer we partnered up with music festivals, like Glastonbury and All Points East, to screen online. It was a way to keep the punk spirit of the film alive and to connect with audiences. I finally learnt how to use Twitter (!) and White Riot screened in cinemas in September. I really hope cinemas survive the pandemic. We’ve just received a 35mm print of White Riot, in time for Christmas, so fingers crossed we’ll be able to screen it in 2021.” — Rubika Shah
When the pandemic struck and the country went under lockdown, we quickly prioritised our distribution process so we could deliver your royalties to you with a minimum amount of disruption. The abrupt but necessary move from the office to home working posed some logistical challenges, but thanks to the hard work of our distribution and IT teams, we were able to carry on processing these payments that have become even more essential. You can read about how our distribution managed the switch and how our distributions work here.
In spite of these COVID-related difficulties, we were still able to distribute some enormous sums of money. In January, we paid out a UK distribution worth £9.6 million gross to just under 3,500 members. £380,000 was paid out for DVD uses in May, and a UK supplementary distribution worth £1.4 million went out to over 2,600 members. Foreign distributions were no less impressive, with one worth just under £3.7 million going out to 2,570 members in May, and another worth £2.9 million paid out to over 4,000 members in October.
While these distributions went ahead as normal, we are making some changes to our distribution timetable that members should be aware of. The main UK distribution will now take place in January, not December as has previously been the case. Find out more here, where we also explain the impact that the coronavirus pandemic may have on the amount of money that members receive in this and future UK distributions, as well as outline the changes to the way payments are allocated to members as a result of the new UK rights deal.
The 2020 Directors UK events calendar started with a bang, as the BAFTA-winning director Sam Mendes joined us at Dolby in Soho Square to talk about his epic technical achievement, 1917. And who better to discuss it with than Alfonso Cuaron? If you weren’t one of those lucky enough to make this blockbuster event, you can catch up with it now via the Directors UK Podcast.
Speaking of technical achievements, this event was quickly followed by our 2020 Challenge Trinity screening. Challenge TRINITY, in association with ARRI, tasks filmmakers with making a one-shot film with some fantastic ARRI gear. We were thrilled to give this year’s films a London premiere, and you can read here how directors Shona Charlton, Markus Meedt, Charlotte George, Bojan Brbora, Paul Romero Méndez and Arturo M. Antolín rose to the challenge.
And then, like so much else, our events were forced to move from screening rooms to living rooms. We dearly miss seeing our members in person at events, but one advantage of having to move online is that our director Q&As were now more accessible and available to members across the country. And we still got to hear from no end of inspiring directors: Spike Lee spoke to Sam Mendes about Da 5 Bloods; Charlie Kaufman spoke to Sally Potter about I’m Thinking of Ending Things (podcast); Antonio Campos discussed The Devil all the Time with Anna Bogutskaya (podcast); we had Rose Glass in conversation with Edgar Wright, talking about directing her debut, Saint Maud (podcast); Ben Wheatley talked Rebecca with Jane Crowther (podcast); Coky Giedroyc and Jim Loach chatted all things Save Me Too with Jessica Hobbs; Philippa Lowthorpe, Marc Munden and Adrian Sturges spilled the beans on the making of The Third Day; Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés spoke to Darcia Martin about their documentary, All In: The Fight for American Democracy (live-tweets); followed by Aaron Sorkin in conversation with Amma Asante, speaking about his new film, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (live-tweets). And our events programme came to a triumphant conclusion just last week, with Beeban Kidron in conversation with the Oscar-winning actor and director of One Night in Miami…, Regina King (live-tweets).
In amongst these fascinating sessions about the craft of directing, we were also pleased to hear from experts in other fields, as we were treated to a valuable mental health discussion between Directors UK Board member Dan Zeff and mental health expert Matt Longley.
It may not be quite the same, experiencing events through the computer screen, but our digital events programme has allowed us to hear from fantastic filmmakers from around the world and explore some fascinating perspectives on the craft of directing. There’s plenty more to come in 2021, so keep checking our events page and your member newsletter for updates.
“After almost giving up directing in 2019 due to poor experiences in the workplace, I decided this year to join the Directors UK Board to give a voice to those who’ve faced similar difficulties. A tough year doesn’t begin to describe 2020 but I’m hopeful that 2021 will be our phoenix and we’ll start to see a clampdown on bullying and harassment, with more directors of colour, women directors and disabled directors on all productions – employed at the high skill and talent level that they already possess. I’m ending the year as one of a few very lucky directors who worked in 2020 – and I’m back to loving my job.” — Christine Lalla
“2020 has been a crazy year. During the first lockdown, with the television industry on hold, I took the opportunity to work on my professional development.
I was co-opted onto the Board of Directors UK in June 2020, something that coincided with the murder of George Floyd. This gave me a vehicle for effecting change in an area I am passionate about, namely, creating employment opportunities for directors of colour. I have since become the Chair of the Directors of Colour Committee, a role I have embraced wholeheartedly.
Since the UK emerged from the first lockdown, I have been incredibly busy, working across online livestreams, entertainment shows, scripted comedy and factual entertainment. What I have found most fulfilling is that not only am I working on projects that I enjoy, but I have been able to provide opportunities to others.” — Jan Genesis
In 2020 Directors UK held its first ever hybrid AGM, with voting taking place remotely and attendees invited to contribute and ask questions online. This was a great chance for members to hear an update on all things Directors UK, remember the members we’ve sadly lost over the past year, and vote on various motions pertaining to the running of our organisation.
It was also a chance to welcome our newest Board members. In 2019, we conducted a governance review to make sure that our Board is working as effectively as possible and is properly representative of our membership. As a result, we were thrilled to put the review into practice and welcome Christine Lalla and Jan Genesis as Board members, Lisi Russell as Successor Representative, and Deborah Stones as the first independent member of the Board. This year also saw the development of our committee structure, which allows us to use the expertise and experiences of our members to drive us forward. You can find out about our committees here.
Finally, 2020 saw Andrew Chowns depart Directors UK and take up a new position as Chair of the Directors Charitable Foundation. He left us in the extremely capable hands of our new CEO, Andy Harrower, who came well-equipped with a wealth of experience at PRS for Music – one of the largest collecting societies in the world. You can read our welcome interview with Andy here.
A message from Directors UK CEO Andy Harrower
I joined Directors UK in May, arriving in the middle of global pandemic and faced with an industry at crisis point. But this forced me to quickly work out what I needed to focus on as an incoming CEO.
As this round up of the year shows, Directors UK has continued to support our members through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Through our distributions, our campaigning, our lobbying, and our events and our career development sessions, we’ve championed the craft of directing, we’ve continued to fight for a more equal industry, and we’ve tried our best to help you navigate this unprecedented crisis.
I’ve been impressed by your resilience and your ambition to continue to create programming that we can all be proud of. In a year where content has been consumed like no other, your creativity and innovation has allowed production to resume safely and has kept a nation entertained and informed through tough times.
But I am acutely aware that many of you have not worked for most of this year, and television and film production is far from being back to pre-pandemic levels. We have some difficult times ahead of us but, as I look to 2021, I’m confident that together we can get through this.
I want to take this moment to say thank you to our members and our Board for welcoming me into the organisation with such warmth. I’d also like to thank the amazing staff at Directors UK who work tirelessly to create a better world for screen directors. I’m looking forward to working with you all as the industry recovers and rebuilds.